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For law and order buffs, scanners are the ultimate cop show

Friday, July 4, 1997

WA2SQQ @ The Controls!

Listening In

By Monique El-Faizy
Staff Writer

Joe Calafiore likes to keep an ear tuned to what's happening around him. Literally. The Totowa resident enjoys watching television as much as possible, but while he sits in front of his tube, his mind is on other things: He's listening to his police and fire scanner through an ear piece.

The reason? "I don't know why...nosy, OK?

Calafiore is one of 10 million to 20 million people nationally who listen to scanners for recreation, said Bob Grove, publisher of North Carolina based Monitoring Times, a magazine for scanner and shortwave enthusiasts.

David Eisenberg, manager of one of the areas biggest scanner suppliers, Community Communications in Fairlawn, said that he has "literally thousands" of customers.

When Fairlawn High School was evacuated in April after a potentially dangerous chemical was found in the basement, Principal Elizabeth Panella said she received several phone calls from residents who heard about the incident on their scanners.

To the untrained ear, the talk sounds more like idle chatter than a source of excitement. Most of it is police radioing fairly mundane information to each other, and to the initiated, even the potentially thrilling is indecipherable. But enthusiasts say that even seemingly banal talk is informative.

It's all about curious, said Warren Silverman, author of the bible for local scanner users, The Scanner Master New York Metro / Northern New Jersey Guide", now in its 10th printing. "Basically, why most people buy scanners is, they see a fire truck go down the street and they want to know where it's going and what's going on, "Silverman said."

Fans say scanner listening is a lot like watching a real-life cops show on television, only more real. "I've always loved to listen to police," Calafiore said. "I knew all the cops in Paterson." Calafiore said he has the scanner on whenever he's at home and has one he listens to in the car. Scanner use is legal in New Jersey, even in the car, said John Hagerty, spokesman for the state police.

Calafiore's scanner collection is downright low-tech in comparison with those of some of the more technologically advanced. Bob Kozlarek has a collection of scanners scattered throughout his Elmwood Park house in a dedicated room in the basement, hidden behind the laundry room. In addition to scanning the airwaves, Kozlarek likes to surf the Internet and is employed as an engineer for a major broadcast electronics company.

Kozlarek said scanners bring him one step closer to the world around him. "Why do you read newspapers" he asked? Scanners, he says, give him "access to news that may not be in the newspaper." "You'd be surprised what you can find out in your neighborhood," he said. One time, he even overhead a stakeout by the FBI, he said.

Were Calafiore keeps his scanning to himself, Kozlarek who brought his first scanner home in his early teens, is a proselytizer. "My mother said, what are you going to do with that...?, he said. But her attitude soon changed. " It took about a week," Kozlarek said, before he would come home to find his mother crocheting to the sound of cop talk. "She got hooked", he said.

Although Kozlarek's wife, Linda, has put her foot down and now insists that he turn the scanner off in their bedroom at night, her mother, Helen, has become hooked. Kozlarek said his mother-in-law watches New Jersey Devils games with the sound off, opting for the sound of police and fire chatter. "It's contagious." Linda Kozlarek said.

Every Wednesday, Kozlarek and friends run an on-air question and answer group that people can tune into with their scanners or ham radios. He also answers questions that he gets by e-mail. The group is growing quickly, he said. There are about 75 regulars who check in weekly, and on a recent night 9 new people tuned in. In addition, over 100 people receive his on line newsletter.

Kozlarek is quick to say that scanner listening is not about thrills for "serious" enthusiasts - whom he defines as being someone as owning more than two scanners. "I'm not chasing fire engines", he says - "that's not what it's about."

Police offers say they generally don't mind civilians eavesdropping - as long as they stay away from the action. Moonachie Police Chief Michael McGahn said he generally doesn't pay much mind to scanner enthusiasts, but notices that often people from other towns turn out to watch fires. Usually crowds are a problem at a large fire," he said.

Glen Rock Captain William K Kealy echoed these sentiments, but added another potential problem: People sometimes misunderstand things they hear on scanners, then go a spread rumors - often about neighbors. At least one officer sees a positive aspect to being listened to. " I'm glad they do, because then they'll see how busy we are." said Fairlawn Police Officer David DeLucca, vice president of the local Policemen's Benevolent Association. "We are glad people are interested."

For many listeners, the hobby is about knowing where the fire truck and police cars are. Eisenberg said many of his customers are seniors who want to know where the trouble is, especially those who live in dangerous areas. "People are afraid to go out in their back yards," Eisenberg said.

Others have more personal reasons. Paterson resident Peggy Thys keeps tabs on her family with her scanner. Her father is a dispatcher, so she can spend her evenings listenings to his voice. When her daughter Melissa was out in the car one evening, Thys heard police run a check on her license plate. For Thy's youngest daughter, Amanda, a backdrop of scanner chatter has always been as normal as the birds singing outside her window. One of the first things she said was, "10-4," Thys said.

©1997 Bergen Record Corp.